A Nation Divided By God

In Features /

By Fatima Najm

Inqilaab is Urdu for revolution.

As the independence movement swept through India in 1947, the tide of Inqilaab created two diverging currents that submerged British imperialism.

From the opposed depths of the Indian people rose two parties – Ghandi’s Indian National Congress, and The Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, once and ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Inqilaab swirled around them and the undertow of religious conflict tugged at national boundaries.

They thought they found a bridge to peace – build Muslims their own nation and end the fighting that would inevitably tear India apart. Instead the disaster uprooted 13 million people, including my family. Two million people drowned in the tides of change.

Critics of the partition wonder why a nation had to be divided at all while supporters say there was no other option for the Muslims of India but to seek a separate homeland. But the main problem that plagued the attempt at peace were the borders that were arbitrarily drawn.

And 54 years later, separatist violence, ethnic cleansing, and the politics of fear still reign over Pakistan, the land my family called home until we came to Canada to find a better life. Mohammed Ali Jinnah died on Sept. 11 1948, and with him died his dream for Pakistan. No subsequent leader commanded the power that Jinnah could wield over the masses. No one after him stood for justice, equality and the rights of minorities.

Fifteen leaders have been sworn in an forced out of office in the last 54 years – not long enough for any one political regime to effect positive change.

In the 1930s, when Inqilaab ruled, the masses swore to rid themselves of the British imperialists who imposed high taxes. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians set aside religious differences to unite in a movement that managed to oust the British from the seat of its Empire. I was a magnificent show of solidarity, one that would have been recounted decades later for the ideals it upheld, had it not been for the fact that the movement did not work.

In Jinnah’s historic speech of Aug. 11, 1947, he said: “You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of the State.

Last Friday night, about 40 Ryerson students gathered at Oakham House where the Pakistani Student’s Association screened the film Jinnah, the story of one man’s quest to free his people. We watched the story of the man, the husband, the father, the revolutionary in a movie that was released in 1998 to mark the 50th anniversary of Pakistan’s Independence.Christopher Lee, best known for his roles as Dracula, delivers a convincing performance as Jinnah.

Jinnah was educated as a lawyer in England and with his British accent and penchant for wine, was not exactly the perfect candidate for Muslim representation. Many thought he was too westernised for the task. But he stood for bringing together all the downtrodden of all races, religions and genders in India. But some couldn’t understand why he wanted to stand up for everyone.

Particularly poignant is a scene from the movie where a mob storms a session where Jinnah is peaking to the masses. Armed policemen drag a Muslim protestor bent on taking Jinnah’s life. Jinnah strides over to ask why the perpetrator was intent on assassinating him, and the protestor in turn demands to know what kind of Muslim Jinnah thought he was, talking about a secular Pakistan, and the rights of Christians, Sikhs, Hindus as well as the right of women. Disgust shadows Jinnah’s face before he replies, “I fight for your mother, your sister, your children, and your children’s children. Now grow up and serve Pakistan.”

The film’s producer, Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic scholar at Cambridge University, found that Jinnah’s brilliance as a visionary, a statesman and orator has faded into obscurity. There is very little literature to document the horrors of those troubled times. We hear little about the women made martyrs, slain by their own families so the enemy could not ravage their bodies. We hear little about the mothers rendered childless, and the hundreds of orphans created as armies on both sides randomly attacked the tide of humanity pouring across the border.

The lines that drew the country were as much a problem as the clashes of those living inside the borders.

In England, leaders sat far removed from the tensions in South Asia as they drew up the plans for how much land was to be awarded to each country. The lines were drawn arbitrarily, with no consideration to the millions of people who would have to leave Pakistan along with those who flooded in.

During their relocation, violence was everywhere. Hindus and Muslims were pitted against each other as each side grew angry at having to leave their homes.

Muslims who uprooted themselves from their lives in India and poured over the border were called Mohajireen (immigrant). They were resented by those already living there and that divide has only gotten deeper in the years since partition. My grandfather was a part of the Muslim League and he was one of the many Muslims who was inspired by Jinnah’s ancestral home to venture into a strange land. He was a Mohajir from India living in Pakistan and was therefore considered a second-class citizen, even though he was a prominent judge. Now, at the age of 76, he realises the country Muslims fashioned from the sheer will of a visionary is not the safe haven for future generations of Muslims it was meant to be. My parents, discouraged by the lack of opportunities in Pakistan moved to the United Arab Emirates, where they sought, and found a better lifestyle. Unfortunately, expatriates, as they were called there have no rights because they are classified as second-class citizens.

Today Mohajirs, who can afford to re-establish themselves elsewhere, emigrate to Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. They take with them skills, experience ans life savings. People bemoan the brain drain in Pakistan. They complain that the brightest and best join multi-national corporations abroad. But some maintain residences in Pakistan today, with a loyalty to the original dream of Inqilaab. They cling to the hope that one day Jinnah’s Pakistan may resurrect itself from the wreckage that it became.

 

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